After housewife Sally Hyde's (Fonda) husband Bob (Bruce Dern), a US Marine Corps captain, is deployed to Vietnam, she decides to volunteer at a VA hospital. There, she meets with an old classmate, Luke Martin (Voight), who is now a paraplegic after his tour of duty. Sally fills the deep void in her life by having an affair with Luke. Things start to get really complicated when Bob comes back home and Luke takes up protesting the war.
This film feature ps examples of:
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Sally has an affair with Luke while Bob is away in Vietnam.
- Crash-Into Hello: A grosser example than usual. An angry Luke is trying to wrestle his stretcher down the VA hallway, seeking to empty his urine bag. He collides with Sally, and the urine spills all over Sally and the floor. Luke flies into a rage, and is sedated.
- Creator Cameo: Cinematographer Haskell Wexler appears as the officer presenting Bob with his medal near the end of the movie.
- Driven to Suicide: Bill Munson and quite likely Bob Hyde
- Epic Rocking: The Chambers Brothers' 11-minute long psychedelic classic "Time Has Come Today" is played, in its entirety, as the soundtrack to the scene where Bob confronts Luke and Sally.
- It Will Never Catch On: One of Bob's friends confidently asserts that the North Vietnamese have "shot their wad" after the Tet Offensive.
- Returning War Vet: Luke.
- Revealing Hug: Sally's empty stare at the ceiling while Bob is having sex with her certainly hints at some emptiness in their relationship.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran:
- Vi's brother Bill, who was only in Vietnam for two weeks, but was sent home with severe emotional problems that have him in the VA hospital.
- And then Bob, who is alienated from his home life even before finding out Sally cheated on him.
- Suicide by Sea: Rather strongly implied at the end of the movie when Bob takes off all his clothes, including his wedding ring, and goes swimming out into the ocean after finding out that Sally cheated on him.
- Sympathetic Adulterer: Sally is lonely and unsatisfied, her husband Bob is distant (and by the end of the film, crazy) and Luke is kind and noblenote . It almost seems at one point as if the main message behind the film (apart from "War Is Bad!") is that "Adultery Can Be Good for You!" Of course, the infidelity does have negative consequences... but mostly for Bob. One gets the impression that Sally is better off for the experience.
- Wedding Ring Removal: See Suicide by Sea. The fact that Bob takes his ring off after learning of Sally's infidelity rather strongly suggests that trope.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Bob is rather unpleasantly surprised."What I'm saying is! I don't belong in this house, and they say I don't belong over there!"